To Hell and Back

The journey of Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit is an exciting one…dwarves, trolls, dragons, and treasure, with a dash of magic, and a serious case of rooting for the underdog. But perhaps the most amazing thing about this particular adventure is that the success of the entire enterprise relied upon a hobbit. Small, hard working, salt of the earth beings, known for minding their own business (wholistically as a species, definitely not as individuals) and a deep genetic aversion to adventure, a hobbit was the last creature you would expect to be involved in such as quest at all, let alone the linchpin of the entire operation. 

This is how our Lord appears too, sometimes to us, and certainly to the people he encountered in his time. At first glance, he doesn’t stand up to our expectations of what a hero is. He doesn’t seem to fit in with the warrior dwarves and wise wizards that are bound for greatness. The son of a lowly carpenter in Nazareth, the last thing most people expected was for Jesus to be the center of the most important quest of all time. 

In the adventure of Jesus’ life, we often see Christ on the cross and the resurrection as the pinnacle of it all. It’s what his entire mission was all about. But, there is another piece of the story occurring in between those major events. He descended into hell. We confess it every week in the creed, but it is a strange thing to think about. Why would he need to descend into hell? “I always tell people that Jesus descended into hell, not to suffer anymore, because the suffering was finished on the cross, but he went down there as a victory lap. It’s Dale Earnhardt Jr. burning out the rubber in front of all the fans. He went down there victorious,” said Rev. Ross Engel on this week’s episode of Ringside.

I do like the picture of Jesus on a victory lap through hell, but there is more to this than just walking up to Satan on his home turf to tell him he’s a “lew-who za-her,” Ace Ventura style. “It’s about assurance,” says Rev. Paul Koch, “There’s no part of the created order of the cosmos or anything that is outside the victory of Jesus Christ. His victory is in hell, as well…It’s the totality of heaven, earth, things under the earth. There is no place that is outside of what Christ has done and proclaimed victory over.” 

God is in control of it all, from heaven to hell and everything in between. In his death, Jesus conquered death, and he made sure that the dead knew about it. Then he comes back to make sure we know that even hell is his. His quest had a reach and immediate impact that we often glance over, but it is really an amazing comfort to know that there is no place we can go where he is not.  


This article is a brief examination of the “metaphorical and theological rugby match” that was this week’s episode of Ringside Preachers. Listen to Rev. Joel Hess, Rev. Paul Koch, Rev. Ross Engel, and Tyler the Intern as they duke it out over using real bread for communion and why you shouldn’t break it, the best objects to use for the strepitus slam, Palm Sunday vs. Passion Sunday, and more on the full Ringside Preachers episode, “Why Descend into Hell?”

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